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Comms guidance in case of terror

Whether the Manchester Arena bombing or the attack on Borough Market (pictured) in 2017, the 7/7 attack on London and the 2019 shootings in Christchurch, or the Wannacry malware attack of 2017; all were a crisis for the organisations responsible for the places where they happened, for the emergency and security services, and for hospitals. So says the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). It has partnered with the official Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) to deliver communications guidance on the preparation and management of threats from hostile actors.

The 38-page guide features a communications toolkit designed to help PR people mitigate the harm of terrorist incidents on brands, businesses and communities. The guidance encourages professionals to be wary of the diverse threats facing organisations; whether left and right wing terrorism, cyber crime or hacktivism. A crisis can also arise from an incident that does not actually happen – such as the November 2017 reported gunfire in Oxford Street that was not real, but was fanned on social media to cause an on-street panic, emergency services response and building lock-downs.

The online guide includes a flowchart for what to consider when planning, handling and recovering from such a crisis. Also covered are ‘deterrence communications’; the idea, far from keeping your security secret, but letting ‘hostiles’ know it’s there (while withholding details that could help hostile reconnaissance). As the document says: “Hostiles will not necessarily be discouraged by security provision, per se; simply having CCTV, guards or a particular fence or lock will not suffice. An organisation needs to promote these security measures effectively to the hostile. If a hostile believes a site has excellent security measures due to what they’ve read online, seen on a poster or witnessed through their physical reconnaissance, it may be enough to deter them from their target.”

The document is informed by CPNI research based on interviews with 30 communications heads and security people from 24 organisations that have experienced a terrorist-related incident. The research found that the success of communication is often determined by the strength of security culture within the organisation. As a result, the guidance encourages PR people to align closely with the security function as part of crisis preparations.

Emma Leech, CIPR president, said: “The fear and horror we feel when people and places we work for or represent are targeted by terrorists has to be separated from the way we manage communication in a time of unique crisis. It demands a clear and calm response that demonstrates empathy and understanding for those affected by these tragic incidents. It is imperative that we consider the operational and emotional needs of the organisation and its stakeholders, and allow sufficient time for planning and recovery. I’d like to thank the CPNI for working closely with the CIPR on the guide and hope that the lessons we’ve highlighted provide support and assurance to PR professionals across the UK.”

The CIPR will publish a webinar on the guidance shortly and plans to host workshops to educate PR people on protecting their organisations.

Download Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events (PDF).

Read CIPR President Emma Leech’s blog.


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